Changing perceptions on two wheels
by Andy Field
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—When Jaime Neisen, a masseuse in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, told her clients she would be vacationing in the Music City, four of them offered the same recommendation: tour the city by bicycle.
Austin Bauman, who owns Green Fleet Bicycle Shop, couldn’t agree more with that advice. He believes the best way to explore a city is on two wheels.
When Neisen entered Green Fleet, located on historic Jefferson Street in North Nashville on a weekday in May, her tour guide was a ruffle-haired Bauman, sporting a T-shirt bearing the words “Sorry, I am not a musician.”
“Biking in Nashville is great because you get to see how connected the city is,” Bauman says. “You get to experience the people in the city in a way you can’t any other way.”
Bauman’s vision to start a bicycle tour service came after he graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2006. He and a friend rode bikes with Rally Across America to raise funds for cancer research.
“We went to 20 different cities (and) biked 5,000 miles over the summer,” he says. “After that, I decided that I really wanted to do bikes and help people experience bicycles in any way possible.”
He founded the company in 2009, and in those early years, his work of using bikes to serve people took a different form. The “Green Fleet” in the shop’s name is a nod to its time as a courier service, Bauman says. His employees once transported items such as legal documents, medical specimens, country music CDs and cowboy hats.
The business gradually added the kind of service he envisioned in the first place — one that focuses on showing visitors the city.
“My passion was always for bike tours because I like the idea of being able to take people out and show them that you can see the city by bicycle,” Bauman says. “So the bicycle tours, of all the things we do, are my most favorite piece.”
Before the bike tour comprising Neisen, her friend and a family from North Dakota begins, Bauman speaks about the history of the neighborhood, starting with a giant mural on the bike shop wall. The painting, which shows Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles riding bicycles, is an homage to Jefferson Street’s past as Nashville’s thriving black-owned business district before integration and an area once famous for its lively club scene.
“But when they put the interstate in, they really destroyed that infrastructure,” Bauman says of I-40. “A lot of the businesses had to leave, and a transportation disaster ended up ruining the street.”
The riders mount their bikes and proceed to nearby Germantown, where Bauman tells stories of the immigrants who built the district and mentions the discrimination many faced during World War I and World War II.
An avid biker herself, Neisen, like Bauman, has biked for a cause. She took part in a two-day biking fundraiser in her home state for people with multiple sclerosis.
Bauman and his team seek a much less physically arduous goal in their work; they would simply like to change people’s perceptions about biking in their home cities.
“Biking is really safe. Biking is not something that is only for racing…it is the most affordable and efficient way to get around,” he says. “So once they come in and see what we have and see how we portray biking, I think they are able to realize ‘Oh, I could be on a bike, too.’”